I'm lazy. Always have been. But while I think that my mother would readily agree with this statement, my wife would probably have a very different opinion on this.
Why? Because of how I structured my life to work around my laziness.
As with most normal people, the thing that works best for me with completing anything is deadlines. The closer you get to the deadline wall, the more motivated, focused and productive you miraculously become. A friend of mine recently told me "I love myself close to the deadline, just absolutely love myself in that state!". It's easy to relate to that statement.
The problem with deadlines is that for the most important things in life there are no strict deadlines. You don't have deadlines for:
If you don't go for a run tomorrow, or don't meditate, or don't learn anything new, nothing visibly bad will happen. There will be no immediate consequences. No one will be reminding you to complete that task or meet that deadline.
There are always deadlines for putting out fires, for things that will not be remembered in a month, but no deadlines for what really matters. And that's a problem.
Maybe there are people who can regularly complete "important but not urgent" tasks, but I'm not one of them. Because I'm lazy, I don't do a task if I don't need to.
So how do I go about achieving the strategically important goals?
Deadlines and consistency.
At some point in my life, I got really good at consistency. Here's a current snapshot:
It's a screenshot from today, from the app called Streaks, where I track how many days in a row I do certain tasks. The tasks on the screen:
This is just the first screen of the app. There's one more. But that one is not as important as the first and I'm not as strict at completing those tasks.
Looking at this screen, how many of these tasks are important but not urgent? I think all but one. A daily photo is not that important, but the rest is.
If I don't do any of these tasks today, nothing will happen. No one will even know about it or notice, except me.
But all the tasks are important in the long term:
OK, so how did I get to this level of consistency?
Deadlines. Self-imposed deadlines, to be more precise.
I knew two things:
1. Deadlines work for me.
2. No one will set the most important deadlines for me.
So there was only one thing that would work: I would have to be the one who sets the deadlines. I would also have to be the one that adheres to these deadlines.
And here comes the hardest part. Why? Deadlines work so well precisely because there's someone or something external holding us accountable. When I'm setting the deadline, I'm not external. It's easy to move a self-imposed deadline, or even to completely disregard it.
Relying only on discipline and motivation is hard. Every time, every day, you need to build up the motivation level to do what you need to do. Sometimes you're fired up and it's easy, but sometimes you don't even want to move a finger.
Deadlines don't care. You can be fired up or you can be a walking dead. It needs to get done, and it needs to be ready by end of day. Deal with it.
I need such level of external force to complete things.
So how did I go about setting up my system?
Choose the things I want to do.
Set the intervals.
Daily, weekly, monthly.
Each interval essentially becomes a deadline.
(This step is the most important and the hardest)
Treat each deadline as non-negotiable. Absolutely, unquestionably, non-negotiable.
Why? Because if there's even a slightest chance of negotiation, I will negotiate. And I will be negotiating with the person setting the deadline. That would be me. I would be negotiating with myself. And I know myself well. So I would be negotiating very effectively. So effectively, that I would win the negotiation. And by winning the negotiation, I would lose.
"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool." — Richard Feynman
I cannot emphasize enough how crucial this step is.
Essentially, what it comes down to: you have to remove the task from self-negotiation. As a result, you no longer expend energy deciding whether to do it. You don't spend time weighing the pros and cons, whether you have time, whether you feel well enough. You just do it. There's no Plan B. It needs to get done. There's a deadline.
Every day, just "show up". You don't need to do a task perfectly. Some days, it probably would even be better to not do it at all than to do a shitty job and need to redo it the next day. But it's non-negotiable. Just show up and do it.
Every day it gets a little easier.
Don't expect results. Just keep showing up.
Why? Because we overestimate what we can do in the short run and underestimate what we can achieve in the long run.
Don't expect anything and don't compare your results to your expectations. Set it and forget it.
This is not about winning the game, it's about continuing to play the game.
Tired, sick, busy, traveling, on holidays. A deadline doesn't care, and you have a deadline.
How does consistency and showing up look like?
You don't need to give your 100% every time. It's not realistic or even possible. But you do need to make sure that there are no gaps.
If you focus on goals, and don't achieve them, you become demotivated, even if you achieved a lot and came close. Goals are binary. You either achieve them or not.
But with daily showing up you don't focus on the ceiling (the goal), you focus on raising the floor every day, even if just a little bit. By raising your floor you inevitably get closer to the ceiling. The only failure here is if you don't raise it, no matter how much or little.
After enough time has passed and after you have crossed the overestimation / underestimation threshold, you will be amazed to see how much you have achieved since you have started to consistently show up. You will also notice that it is indeed easier. No, it never becomes effortless, but with time it really is easier, and you can push through harder days with less effort and frustration.
This is what worked for me. What keeps working for me. Maybe it can work for you, too. Or maybe you can borrow a few elements and adapt it to your own system.
A few more notes.
How did I end up with the habits that I now do daily?
I tried a lot of them. In fact, in 2021 I tried a new habit each month. What worked, or what I liked, I kept doing. What didn't bring results, I repurposed or just stopped doing. Daily learning was a monthly challenge that I never stopped doing. An hour of focused work, too.
Try something for 30 days, then reassess. Modify, if needed, or drop if it's not working out. It's a small price to pay for potentially finding something that will have strategically important effects for the rest of your life.
Never negotiate with yourself.
Do a lot of research and thinking when deciding on a task for a 30-day habit. But once you decide that you're doing it, do it no matter what. You can modify or change your mind after 30 days. Same for ongoing tasks. You can review their effectiveness or whether it makes sense to continue at some predefined intervals, for example monthly or quarterly. But in between, it's set in stone. There is no possibility to negotiate. It's actually easier to go 100% than 99%. You don't need to think every day if today is the day when 1% exception makes sense. No, it doesn't.
Skipped a day?
Shit happens. Sometimes you skip a day, no matter how hard you try not to. Don't worry about it. Keep at it. Soon you'll have a new streak. Just make sure to never, ever skip two days in a row. If you do, your brain will revert to not doing the thing as the default, as if you haven't even started.
Choose the things you want to do
Set time intervals for self-imposed deadlines
Remove the tasks from self-negotiation
Show up and do what you need to do, even if sloppy
Keep showing up and don't expect results
Turn around one day and be astonished by the results.
PS. This is what worked for me. It might or might not work for you. Or you may have a stronger will or motivation to stay consistent. I'm bad at it, so I had to come up with a rigorous system. You may need only a few nudges here and there. If you find any helpful nudges here, I'll be happy to learn about it. Shoot me a message on Twitter.
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